From an article in Publish Magazine by Poppy Evans
© Publish Magazine/Poppy Evans

Taming The Wild West

To revamp American Cowboy magazine, a Kansas designer looks to Rolling Stone for inspiration.

A Wichita, Kansas, designer found he could rekindle a bit of the frontier spirit as he began revamping a bimonthly magazine. Founded in 1994, American Cowboy was being designed by editorial and production staff, aided by freelance designers, when its publisher hired John Baxter of Acme Design to polish its image.

Initially, American Cowboy wanted a cosmetic makeover. “But,” Baxter relates, “I knew there could be much more to redesigning the magazine than changing the logo and the typefaces.” Working with Baxter, the editors reorganized the magazine’s contents into three categories: regular departments, thematic features, and feature articles.

Baxter then searched for a headline font. “One of the rules I imposed on myself was ‘no rope-type,’” Baxter says. “I wanted to avoid simulated ‘Western’ looks.” Baxter finally drew inspiration from old issues of Rolling Stone, where he found a display face he learned had been designed by someone named Parkinson. Soon afterward, he found the same typeface, aptly named Parkinson, at the Font Bureau. (Baxter kept ITC Berkeley as the text font, feeling that it worked well with Parkinson.)

Having found the right headline face, Baxter was well on his way to designing a look he felt would suit American Cowboy. The redesign comprised a new logo and a reformatted table of contents, as well as a treatment that clearly differentiates special features from regular ones.

For the cover, Baxter worked with the editors to develop more efficient wording of the headlines and decks. The staff also decided to splurge on stock photography to replace the donated photos that had previously run. The cover treatment has been extremely successful: American Cowboy has increased its newsstand sales by 12 to 15 percent.

American Cowboy was based in Wichita when Baxter started working on the redesign, but shortly thereafter the magazine moved to Sheridan, Wyoming. Although Baxter produced the first redesigned issue in its entirety, he now confines his design work to the cover, table of contents, and feature articles. He produces his part of the magazine in his Wichita studio using Adobe PageMaker on a Macintosh. The magazine’s staff produces the rest of the pages using QuarkXPress for Windows.

“The tricky part is when John has editorial matter and I have an ad on the same page,” says Debbie Cruz, American Cowboy’s production manager. She and Baxter send their digital files to the magazine’s service bureau in Wichita, which does the color separations and outputs the film. “It has really worked out well,” Cruz says.

Contributing Editor Poppy Evans has written several books on design topics. She teaches graphic design and computer publishing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

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